NMMI Sports Press
This season, the New Mexico Military Institute Bronco volleyball team earned their third consecutive trip – and fifth in six seasons - to the NJCAA National Championships.
The Broncos compiled a 29-9 overall record on the season, and earned an automatic bid to the 2018 national tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas by not only winning the Region V West tournament, where they defeated Midland College in the championship in five sets, but also had to win a super-regional match against 20th-ranked Arizona Western College, which they did soundly, in three straight sets, at home.
At nationals, however, the 10th-ranked Broncos faltered, losing their opening round match against No. 7 Tyler Junior College in four sets, then dropped their initial match in the consolation bracket against No. 15 Laramie County Community College in five sets.
"Honestly, we struggled as a whole. In that [first] match, we just didn't have anybody on our team who stepped up to the plate like they had been doing during the month of October," said head coach Shelby Forchtner. "As a coach, it was pretty frustrating to be on the sidelines watching that happen, because that wasn't just one or two people. That was a team effort. Statistically, when you go and look at it, we got owned."
"We bounced back a little bit against Laramie County, and I think we had a better start to our match, but then we really struggled in that match, too," the coach said. "We never even should have let it get to a fifth set, and yet, there we were."
But still, everyone agrees, there is a lot to be proud of this season.
"Those games were not characteristic of what we had been doing in October and in the regional tournament," said coach Forchtner. "It's a sad way to end your season when you had been playing so well late. But again, we're one of the top 16 teams in the nation, so you kind of have to look at it from that vantage point, too. That this is not what we wanted to have happen, but we're still one of the better teams."
"In our coaches' eyes and in our players' eyes, that's not necessarily what they're shooting for," said NMMI athletic director Jose Barron. "They're shooting for that top spot, and I have no doubt that if we continue on the trajectory we're on, one day we will get that top spot. We're going to play at the right tempo at the right time and go for all the marbles, as they say. Going from third last year to 10th this year is not what the expectations of our team is, but it's still a super tremendous feat for any team at NMMI, let alone anywhere, to be one of the best teams in the nation."
But that's the past, and despite the loss of eight sophomores to graduation, Forchtner is expecting the team to be right back in the thick of things next season.
"We really like our freshman crop. We love them," Forchtner exclaimed. "This is by far one of the most athletic group of kids as a whole that we have ever brought in. And just watching Day 1 of the offseason shows it.
"You've got the two West Point kids (Ha'ahulakaleikaimana "Hula" Crisostomo and Peyton Schendt) in there who work hard. They work hard in the gym; they do everything you ask them to do out here. But on top of that are two phenomenal athletes: Gabriela (Langi), from Utah, and Nyanuer (Bidit), from Alaska. Both of them just need a little bit of tweaking in terms of technique. Then there's Yumeno (Nawa), very technical but needs the strength and endurance because she's never done that type of stuff before. Barbara (Celar), also very sound in technique, but needs the strength and endurance and needs to be pushed mentally and physically because she's never had that before. Violeta (Mendoza Quintana), from Mexico, could very easily have started for us this year if she could just have gotten over that mental hump because she's a very athletic volleyball player."
The big question is whether Crisostomo and Schendt will be accepted to the Academy, and they'll have to wait until spring to find out whether they'll get that opportunity. Meanwhile, they'll continue the off-season training, along with two more freshmen who round out the talented class: opposite-side hitter Coralys Maldonado and middle Katelynn Gutz, both of whom had extensive playing time this season.
"We could step out and play with these kids right now," Forchtner said. "We just need to keep this class together, keep them healthy during the spring semester workouts, keep them growing, and keep them happy at a military school. And even if we had to replace Hula and Peyton, which are two huge pieces to replace, we still have a lot of phenomenal athletes there."
And because injuries are always a possibility, and because you get two years to develop talent at the junior college level, Forchtner already has been recruiting, trying to bring in a new crop of freshmen who will fill in the gaps.
"Our major, major recruiting focus right now is a middle. And possibly two," said Forchtner. "But we've already signed a new setter to replace (sophomore) Brigitte (Needham) in the spring. It will be nice to work with her for an extra semester. Plus, we're already tracking two really good middles - one whose father has been in the military so that's kind of a good thing for us too - and we've had a really, really, really good setter and another great walk-on come on campus, along with another really great kid from Utah coming to us check out. So already some really good things happening along the recruiting front."
But that recruiting is just a part of what makes the NMMI team so successful. Barron said.
"We have a coach who puts our team through a tough regimen: pre-season; in season; and the post season. We have what I would call a premier program, and our coach does a fantastic job of keeping those girls engaged throughout the year, getting ready for the next year and reloading with the right players."
"If we can keep this freshman class together and we just do a solid job of recruiting, we have a chance to be just as good (as 2018), just because this class played," Forchtner said. "As freshmen, they were all out there. Peyton was out there. Violeta played at times. Langi was out there. Nyanuer played at times. Katelynn started in the middle. Barbara set almost every game for us. Hula started every game in the libero. Yumeno played every game defensively. These kids had a ridiculous amount of experience their freshman season. So if they just grow in the offseason, we will be really good next year. And we've got some really good natural leaders in this class, which is really, really helpful."
Especially if they hope to keep the amazing string they've accumulated over the past two years going.
"We have not lost a conference game in two years in the WJCAC," stated Barron. "That's an amazing feat. Undefeated not once, but twice, in consecutive years of conference play."
"This was a great year, even following up last season's third place finish," Forchtner said. "That's the highest national ranking the school has ever received, so that's obviously what everyone is going to compare our future seasons against, and what we'll strive to beat. But this season was very similar. We were 10-0 again in conference, all year long we were nationally ranked and very competitive, and this year we not only won the Region V West tournament, but also a really good Arizona Western team to go to nationals. If we would have played like that at the national tournament, we would have been right back sitting in the 1-2-3 spot, very easily."